Wednesday, May 13, 2015

We're On To Jimmy Football - Then Again, Maybe Not....

Garoppolo (L) modeled his game after Brady's
"Garoppolo can find receivers and fire the ball on target faster than you can say his name. Lighting release and frozen rope medium distance sideline passes are reminiscent of Dan Marino's lasers. This despite concerns about his size, short arms and small hands." CBSSports 2014 Draft Profile

Bill Belichick has a long-standing personal rule that he never discusses players who aren't playing - and Patriots' fans should follow suit.

Veteran signal caller Tom Brady will not be playing for the first quarter of the 2015 NFL season, barring a very high-profile appeal, suspended for hindering the NFL's investigation of the New England Patriots and the much-publicized "Deflategate" matter- and there's absolutely nothing that anyone but Tom Brady and his legal team can do about that right now.

Well, maybe his agent will have some more words, certainly in conjunction with newly-retained co-chair of the high-powered Sports Litigation Practice Group, attorney Jeffrey Kessler - who also boasts the NFL Player's Association as one of his clients - none of whom are likely to take the suspension lying down, meaning that that this thing will drag on for longer than even the lawyers will enjoy - because it's already gone on longer than any sane person would find amusing.

But whether Tommy Gun rides the pine of exile for the mandated four games or wins a partial reprieve on appeal, the Patriots' starting quarterback to begin the 2015 season will be most likely be second-year phenom Jimmy Garoppolo for at least a game or two...

...something that the head ball coach has probably already put behind him because he can't afford to waste his time worrying about a player who won't be playing.
2014 was a great learning experience for Garoppolo

That said, we're on to Jimmy Football.

Or, then again, maybe not.

But the retaining of Kessler is a story for another time.  All anyone knows for certain at the moment is the fact that Brady is suspended and if things stand they way they are now, Garoppolo is the logical choice to be the next man up.

The second-round draft pick of the Patriots last season, Garoppolo was supposed to have been a member of the Houston Texans, who had him pegged for the first pick of the third round, but Belichick pulled the trigger on him at the end of the second round, trumping the quarterback needy Texans by three spots on the board, forcing Bill O'Brien to select Pitt's Tom Savage at the beginning of the fourth round instead.

There are some who questioned the selection, placing the Eastern Illinois product on the long, freakish list of curious moves by the Dark Master, adding to names such as Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon and this year's second round head-scratcher, Jordan Richards - safeties all.

But why Garoppolo? Why did Belichick want Garoppolo bad enough to spend his gold-laced second round draft capital on him, especially since he had brought in top quarterback prospects like Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel for visits in the weeks before the draft, fueling speculation that the Patriots might be in the market for Brady's heir-apparent...

...and they were, but it turns out that having those two in for a visit may have been a bit of a smoke screen for what they actually had in mind, because Belichick wasn't looking for a starting quarterback - instead, he needed a kid with enough upside to justify the amount of time he was going to have to spend coaching him up, and also someone who had enough natural talent to hold the fort in case something happened to Brady.

Well, now something has happened to Brady, and with a year of the Erhardt-Perkins offense under his belt, it's more probable than not that Garoppolo is ready to assume the hold-the-fort position that he appears to be custom-made for.

But then Brady threw a much-anticipated monkey wrench into the whole works by hiring Kessler to handle his appeal and a likely civil suit not only against the NFL, but also League puppet Ted Wells, whose mantra appears to be, a lie told often enough becomes the truth.

The Well's report - of which the most consistent thing was in its inconsistencies - prompted (or cued, depending on your point of view) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's henchman Troy Vincent to issue the suspension on Brady - which with Kessler now on board makes the Wells' job a slab of meat to Kessler's pack of wolves.

Kessler is a heavy hitter and a bully and seems to enjoy shoving the league around, and with as weak a stance as the report takes, he has to be salivating in anticipation of taking a bite out of both the League - for like the fourteenth time - and out of Wells, whose reputation is about to shatter like cheap glass.

All bets are off for the moment as far as who the quarterback will be when the Patriots host the Steelers in early September, but whoever it is will enjoy leading what is perhaps the best offense in professional football.

The staple of the aforementioned Erhardt-Perkins offense is employing a quarterback whose best attribute is intelligence.  Brady has shown that you don't have to be an elite athlete to make the offense work, you just have to know the offense inside and out, know where everybody is on both sides of the line of scrimmage and to be able to deliver precision strikes in the intermediate passing game, allowing the receivers to work down the field after the catch.

Brady does that better than anyone who ever played the game, so it's patently unfair to expect the same out of a second year man who has more nick-names than career passing attempts - but why wouldn't we expect Garoppolo to come in and show the same kind of efficiency that he showed in college and in his brief appearances in the NFL?

He doesn't have a booming arm to go over the top of the defense, but he can do so with touch spirals that, if he ever figures out the secret to deep accuracy, he can lay right into the streaking receiver's hands.  In contrast, his intermediate throws are money and get to the pass catchers with a little extra mustard.

His eyes are tied to his feet, meaning that he never looses poise and remains in perfect firing position at all times because he feet move in tandem with his eyes, something that sounds automatic, but very few second-year NFL quarterbacks do it consistently.  There are times that he relies on his short-area arm strength to fit the ball into a phone booth instead of stepping into his throws but, hey, he's young.

"From his pocket mobility to his accuracy to his mental makeup, he has a lot of qualities you look for as someone you can develop at the next level." ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay said of Garoppolo prior to the 2014 Draft. "A lot of young quarterbacks leave their feet behind when they check into their next progression.  But not Garoppolo.  He's always in position, ready to pull the trigger."

Be that as it may, the Patriots need Garoppolo to just play caretaker for the immediate future.  Maybe he's ready for the big show and maybe he's not quite there yet, but one can be certain that Belichick is not going to just send him out and pray that he does ok, he's going to send him out with a solid game plan featuring lots of short-area passing plays combined with interior running plays, bubble screens and the occasional lid-popper over the top...

...and it never hurts to be able to plug him into such a well-oiled machine of an offense, surrounded by what could very well be the largest and most physically brutal offense in the league.

Everything starts up front in football, and the Patriots are in pretty decent shape to start the year in that respect, though there figures to be some turn over in personnel.  In addressing a percieved need along the interior of the offensive line, Belichick drafted two absolute maulers to compete for and / or  take starting jobs at the guard positions.

A lineup of rookies Tre' Jackson at left guard and Shaq Mason at right with Jackson's former Florida State teammate Bryan Stork at the pivot gives the Patriots a potentially lethal drive blocking capability, particularly given that the scheme can be supplemented by wham-block specialists, reserve tackle Cam Fleming and All-World tight end Rob Gronkowski along with massive fullback James Develin.

For the record, all of the Patriots' running backs work best in a drive blocking scheme, in particular second-year third down back James White, who worked behind the always massive and mauling lines at Wisconsin - as well as fellow sophomore Tyler gaffney who excelled in the scheme at Stanford, where he ran behind Fleming much of the time.

LeGarrette Blount is a power back that will also benefit from the change in philosophy up front, as will enigmatic power back Jonas Gray, but the real challenge for Garoppolo and the offensive line will be in the passing game - but not as much as one might think...

...not with weapons like Julien Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell to throw at, not to mention tight ends Scott Chandler, Tim Wright, Fred Davis and, of course, Gronkowski.  That is a lot of experience in the pattern, which will make the sophomore's job that much easier.

As we already know, Garoppolo is always in the right posture to unload the football downfield, and he has perhaps the most natural footwork and quickest release of any quarterback since Dan Marino.  Of course, Garoppolo's deep arm strength will never match that of Marino's, nor does it have to as new England's passing game is predicated on methodically moving the football down the field with the short passing game and with well-timed running plays.

In other words, Garoppolo will be using and running an extended version of the four-minute offense, a philosophy that is akin to the Three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust standard, only in the form of short passes delivered with accuracy to allow the receivers to catch the ball without breaking stride, picking up first down after first down until, before you know it, the Patriots have scored 35 points.

Brady is the master at this philosophy, and when Garoppolo's quarterback coach - who has been working with since he switched from linebacker to signal caller in high school - tells us that his student models his game after Brady's, well, that makes it even easier to believe that Jimmy Football will be just fine as a placeholder until the greatest of all time returns...

...that is, if Brady is forced to sit out at all.

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